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Let It Flow

Lungelo Shezi investigates how the City of Joburg is making water more accessible to poor households.

Water is life, one of the most crucial, basic needs of every living being and, according to the South African Constitution, it’s also a human right.

Sadly, however, not everyone can afford to pay for clean water to be provided to their household. So what happens when government has a responsibility to balance the need to provide water as a human right while also ensuring that the poor aren’t burdened with having to pay for something they can barely afford?

In 2013, Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, published the reviewed National Water Policy for public comment. This policy was later officially gazetted and came into effect.

A part of the revision focused on the measured allocation of free basic water per household. According to the national government, providing this had placed a significant burden on the state and water service authorities, especially where individuals are able to afford to pay for the service.

The revised policy now stipulates that municipalities need only provide free basic water for indigent (poor) households.

The City of Joburg, along with other metropolitan municipalities, adopted this provision into its Extended Social Package (ESP) policy. Now, depending on household income, the city’s poorest residents will receive up to a maximum of 15 kilolitres of free water per household, per month.

Different levels of subsidy

The unemployed, youth, people with disabilities, displaced persons and senior citizens are typically society’s most vulnerable. People with different levels of need will qualify for different levels of subsidy according to the City’s measure of affordability.

To qualify to be considered indigent, applicants must reside in the City of Joburg; they must have an income of less than R5 308.20 per month (this amount changes annually on 1 November in line with the Consumer Price Index); and they must be South African citizens.

Sebaka Molapo, Director: Executive Support in the City of Joburg’s Health and Social Development Department, explains how water subsidies are applied in terms of the various income levels of indigent households: “Band 1 is the vulnerability range and is allocated as the lowest level of subsidy aimed at helping those on the borderline of poverty.

“Band 2 is the survival range and is the middle level of subsidy aimed at those who earn some formal income, but whose earnings fall below the survival level. Band 3 has no formal income or an income of up to R928.21. This is where the highest level of subsidy is applied ­– for those living in the most deprived circumstances. The ESP water benefit is capped at 15 kilolitres per household,” he says.

“The allocation of free basic water will offer individuals and families temporary relief and a lifeline.”

According to Molapo, the Social Development Department has a vision to facilitate and influence conditions critical to poor households and individuals accessing integrated and efficient social services.

“It’s geared towards transitioning them out of poverty and investing in building resilience among residents at risk and championing the pro-poor agenda in the City of Joburg.”

Registering for an ESP subsidy

To register for an Extended Social Package (ESP) and to receive subsidies, applicants need to visit their local municipal office with proof of income, three months’ bank statements, an identity document, electricity account or prepaid electricity card or meter number, and a water account. The benefits package is renewable every six months.

The City is looking at procuring an identification and verification system to improve the credibility of the ESP database and verify the information presented by applicants on registration.

Fast fact

The ESP register is updated daily, allowing for new registrations and re-registration, which takes place every six months for individuals to continue receiving benefits.

Image: ©Shutterstock - 322342541
Image: ©Shutterstock - 322342541

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